The Hamptons may be the ritziest of Long Island's communities, but the gorgeous haven that attracts the rich and famous is just the beginning. This sizeable promontory – Long Island juts 118 miles east of New York City and encompasses 1,400 square miles – is home to an eclectic mix of things to do, see and taste. The summer months reel in tourists en masse while many attractions shutter for the winter. But, if you time it right, the options for the traveler looking for a unique New York experience are endless, whether it's a special day trip out of the Big Apple or a lengthier sojourn. Here are a few of our favorite Long Island memory-makers.
Skip the Rails, Take the Bus The Long Island Rail Road is a popular link between Long Island and New York City. But the 7 Bus, which hit the streets this past July, is your cheaper (and perhaps more stylish) option. Nonstop service between Manhattan and either Melville or Ronkonkoma will cost you just $7 roundtrip. Further destinations like Southampton are $19 roundtrip. Trips take place daily and several times a day, and your ride comes complete with personal power outlets and free wi-fi.
Skip the Grownups, Hang With the Kids "I am obsessed with finding things to do out there, which is not a difficult task given the possibilities," says Karyn Maletzky Ravin, a marketing executive who lives and works in New York City but counts the days year-round until her next family getaway to Long Island. Her biggest incentive for discovering the next neat thing to do? Her two kids. They love animals and insects and highly recommend the Quogue Wildlife Refuge,where you can scope out native animals like bobcats and owls, view lizards and bugs, and walk along seven miles of trails. For aquatic life, they head to Riverhead and the Long IslandAquarium, you can feed sting rays and sharks in addition tomeet penguins and sea lions. "After the aquarium, it's always lunch at Jerry & The Mermaid," adds the mom of two, where fresh, locally caught seafood reigns supreme. Your own kids will also rave about the Children's Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, home to a windmill, a musical forest and an art studio. And if they like to keep the beat, Maletzky Ravin suggests taking them to Sagg Main Beach in Sagaponack, where the Monday evening Drum Circle -- the beating usually starts around 7 p.m. – makes for awesome pictures as the sun sets behind the dunes.
Don't Get Behind the Wheel, Hire a Driver Long Island's wine industry is booming with more than 60 vineyards and 30-plus wineries to its name. If you're making a day trip out of it, leave the driving to Hampton Luxury Liner, which will pick you up from a variety of locations in Manhattan or Long Island and whisk you away to hot spots like Pindar Vineyards, Duck Walk Vineyards and Baiting Hollow Farm. You'll go in style, too, enjoying reclining leather seats with individual power outlets, snacks, wi-fi and flat-screen TVs.
Taste the Wine, Sip the Vodka Feel like cleansing the palate between vineyard visits? Long Island Spirits is the area's first craft distillery, dating back to the 1800s. Located in the popular North Fork wine region, it produces all its vodka onsite from sustainably farmed local potatoes. The artisan operation also makes whisky – the first single-malt to be made on Long Island, in partnership with Blue Point Brewery – and a line of specialty liqueurs. You can visit seven days a week for a tasting on the back deck, which overlooks dozens of acres of potato fields and vineyards.
Skip the Market, Pick Your Own Agriculture thrives on Long Island. Harvest is seasonally driven, of course, and dozens of farms and orchards here invite visitors to come pick their own. Hank's Pumpkintown in Southampton draws regulars in the fall with its pumpkin and apple picking, not to mention its wagon rides, corn mazes, cider doughnuts and fresh-baked pies. People flock to Fritz Lewin Farm in Calverton for the strawberries, cranberries and peppers. And Mediavilla Orchard in Huntington specializes in peaches and pears. Goodale Farms is a bit off the beaten path – it's a fifth-generation operation in Aquebogue – but here's where you can milk the goats and cows (which are raised on pasture and natural grains) right out of your own glass bottle.
Play Gatsby, Visit the Gold Coast The opulence depicted in F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic, The Great Gatsby – not to mention this year's hit Baz Luhrmann film – is alive and well on Long Island's northern Gold Coast. Here, lavish castle-like mansions owned by New York's elite create a classic 1920s feel and offer visitors the chance to visit, tour and – in some cases – even spend the night. Old Westbury Gardens, a 70-room manor on 100 sprawling acres, was built in 1906 by John S. and Margarita Grace Phipps and is open today for tours. Falaise at Sand's Point Preserve is a Normandy-style mansion dating back to 1923; Harry Guggenheim built it, his friend Charles Lindbergh wrote his book "We" here, and guests today can enjoy nature trails, exhibits and an annual Medieval Fair. And Oheka Castle is one of the purported inspirations for the Great Gatsby mansion, with its 126 rooms, golf course, airstrip and indoor pool; it's mostly used for private events today, though guests can call ahead to request a private tour and even an overnight stay.
Skip the Table, Hit the Food Truck Long Island is home to a wonderful array of dining options, from casual to refined. North Fork Table & Inn in Southfold offers both. The indoor Table feature the innovative American fare if chef-owners Gerry Hayden and Claudia Fleming, who create seasonally-driven dishes from organic produce; reservations here are taken a month in advance to the date. But three years ago, they rolled The Lunch Truck onto the parking lot to offer patrons a casual, more affordable, but no less delectable food experience. A Hartmann's Artisan All-Beef Hot Dog will cost you $5, and you can build your own with topping like apple vinegar-glazed onions and homemade sauerkraut. There's chili, a daily soup option and a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches. The wild-caught lobster roll, priced at $16.50, is a winner. The Lunch Truck is open 11:30am to 3:30pm Thursday through Monday.
Skip the Gym, Hit the Water The same Hampton beaches that draw water worshippers with their soft sand are also home to a bevy of water sports. Island Surf School in Westhampton Beach holds week-long surf classes during the summer, as well as private lessons by pros; this is also a great spot to nab a new pair of sunglasses, swimwear or even a new surfboard. If you're looking to join the stand-up paddleboard craze, Hamptons Paddleboard offers lessons and rentals at both the North and South Forks of Long Island. Their guides are all certified professionals that cater to all skill levels with leisure, extreme and even twilight tours.
Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features a bevy of Long Island hotel specials, as well as local deals on Long Island at http://www.travelzoo.com/local-deals/Long-Island/deals.